Council Accused Of Slowing City’s Petition Process; Motion To Temporarily Shutter New Paid Parking Area Shot Down

Council Accused Of Slowing City’s Petition Process; Motion To Temporarily Shutter New Paid Parking Area Shot Down
Council Accused

OCEAN CITY – Petition organizers opposed to the expansion of paid parking are becoming frustrated with the lengthy verification, accusing the Mayor and City Council this week of foul play and muddying the process.
In the spring, the majority of the City Council voted to approve an ordinance that enacted new areas of paid parking to bring in additional revenue and help close a budget gap. New areas chosen included the east side of the Public Safety Parking Lot between 65th and 66th streets, City Hall parking lot, the west side of Philadelphia Ave. between North Division and South First streets, 49th Street ocean block, 131st Street from Coastal Highway to Sinepuxent Ave., and 146th Street ocean block.
For months, the ordinance met opposition from Ocean Place Condominium owners on 146th Street, a former councilman and a business owner on 131st Street. Those in opposition came together with the recently organized group of Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ) and began petition efforts to place a referendum on a ballet to question the registered voters if they support the new areas of paid parking.
The petition for an ordinance referendum met its deadline on July 31. The petition had to gather 40 percent of the number of voters who voted in the last election in last November, or 1,226 signatures. The OCTSJ announced it had received the sufficient number of signatures and actually turned in excess of 1,700.
Upon deadline, the petition was turned into City Clerk Kelly Allmond who reviewed the petition and submitted it to the Board of Elections. The board met on Wednesday to review the petition and verify the signatures. The signatures will only count if the person is a registered Ocean City voter and signatures cannot be duplicated, among several other clerical requirements.
The Board of Elections will present the results to the Mayor and City Council next month most likely. If 1,226 signatures are verified, the new areas of paid parking will be put on hold until a special election or the next scheduled municipal election is held at which point voters will weigh in on the issue.
If the voters reject the ordinance allowing the new areas of paid parking, they will come to a permanent stop. All will continue as is if voters express support for the new paid parking areas.
It is the Mayor and City Council’s discretion to hold a special election prior to the next scheduled municipal election or wait until the elections in November of 2014. In the meantime, the town will be losing out on the revenue generated from the new areas of paid parking that was originally initiated to help close a budget gap, ultimately having the budget become unbalanced.
This week Mac Balkcom of Ocean Place Condominium returned to the Mayor and City Council disgruntled with the Board of Elections having custody of the petition without reviewing the signatures and releasing the results in a more timely fashion.
“We counted the signatures many times before we turned them in, over and over, it didn’t take four weeks. I think the people in Ocean City know what’s going on here. It’s the council dragging their feet,” he said.
Councilman Joe Mitrecic interjected the Mayor and City Council has nothing to do with the process of signature verification.
“For you to insinuate that we are dragging our feet is wrong,” he said.
Council President Lloyd Martin said the verification of signatures is a matter between the City Clerk and the Board of Elections.
“I would think you would want us [Mayor and City Council] to stay out of it, and that is what we have done … for you to walk in here and think that we have anything to do with it was the wrong thing to do,” he said.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas pointed out that when general employees petitioned to gain collective bargaining rights last year it took less than 20 days for the results.
According to City Clerk Kelly Allmond, she received the general employee petition on June 29, 2012, the Board of Election met on July 9, 2012, and the results were read on July 13, 2012 but there were urgent factors in the process, such as the town was preparing for an upcoming election that November.
“It is right that it can be done in a more timely fashion … I think they have a legitimate gripe about it,” Pillas said. “I do feel the community feels that it is being held back.”
While Balkcom was at the podium, Council Secretary Mary Knight took the opportunity to ask him and his associates to forward resident inquiries over the council’s intentions and reasoning for paid parking to the Mayor and City Council because incorrect information was being given to gain signatures.
“I know on St. Louis Avenue when people were out collecting signatures I had an 88-year-old lady call me with the name of the person that told her the town is going to install parking up and down St. Louis Avenue … those are the kind of issues I would like to correct,” she said.
At this point, Balkcom accused Mayor Rick Meehan of personally commenting to him that it will only be a matter of time before paid parking is installed on every street in town.
“I never said that to you,” the mayor said furiously. “I am sorry to even have to say this tonight but I heard everyone [petition representatives] was telling people that we will be putting parking meters on their streets, in residential neighborhoods that have never been discussed by this council … we need to base conversations on the facts and let the people make their own decision.”
Regardless of the council’s feelings about the issue, many private citizens went out in the summer heat and collected the signatures of other private citizens in the community, Councilman Brent Ashley said.
“They all deserve our thanks and admiration for participating in the democratic process,” Ashley said. “I know that this group worked diligently to insure that all signatures were checked and valid before turning them into the city clerk.”
Ashley made a motion the council makes a goodwill gesture to those that participated in collecting signatures and those citizens that signed the petition, and vote to cover up the Cale machines in the areas affected by the paid parking ordinance until the official signature count is verified. That would essentially remove paid parking from those streets until the issue is resolved, resulting in a loss of funding for the city that has already been budgeted.
Councilman Joe Mitrecic asserted Ashley’s motion would not only bag the Cale machines on 146th Street but all new areas paid parking included in the approved ordinance, such as the municipal parking lots. Ashley’s motion died in a 5-2 vote with only Ashley and Pillas in favor and Council members Dennis Dare, Doug Cymek, Lloyd Martin, Knight and Mitrecic opposed.